Thursday, March 29, 2018

#459 Sleepless In Seattle (Part 1) -- TCWT Stop 1

My Tall Chick Work Tour begins at the end of my career – Seattle.  My playing there was a long shot.  I retired in 1994 after playing four years overseas.  I loved that overall experience, but struggled with feelings of isolation, as I was usually the only foreigner on my team.  I was also 25 and ready to get a “real” job.  I fell into sporting goods sales and was happily on track for six months when I learned about the formation of a new U.S. women’s professional basketball league – the America Basketball League, which would play during the traditional basketball season.  During the next six months, I whipped myself back into shape, attended the Atlanta combine in May 1996 and entered the draft pool.  Draft day came that June, and I waited.  And waited.  By the time I left work, I hadn’t heard anything.  During my drive home I had accepted that my playing days were over.  As I pulled into my driveway, my mom ran out and told me the Seattle Reign had just called and drafted me in the 10th and last round.  I’d made it! 

My excitement gave way to the realization that I would be playing 2,000 miles away from home.  I had hoped to be drafted by the Columbus Quest so I would be near my family and friends.  My reasoning was that I had spent the past four years in other countries and wanted to be as close to home as possible.  Looking back, I am thankful I played where I did, even if it was the furthest city.  Nothing personal against Columbus, Ohio, but I can’t imagine having lived there compared to Seattle.  And the team may not have had the best record, but I liked my teammates and we had the best front office in the league.

My dad joined me on a three-day cross-country drive to the Emerald City.  I grew up with road-trip vacations and, despite the long days, we had a blast, taking time out to see the Field of Dreams, the Corn Palace, Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug

I lived downtown at the corner of Boren and Pike, near what they call Pill Hill (lots of hospitals).  I was also close to Capitol Hill, which, to this naive Hoosier, was like another planet.  Very entertaining. 

My team experience was a roller coaster.  I was making good money for a 20-something and playing a game I enjoyed.  The season began and I found myself starting and playing well.  I won’t get into any details (you’ll have to hold out for my book), but my playing time and confidence soon took a hit.  I wasn’t the only one with issues.  It’s interesting as you go up each level (high school, college, pro) how egos can come out.  Add coach turmoil to the mix and it was not pretty.  

Program photo

We won our home opener.  It was quite the spectacle! 

That uniform is swallowing me!  

That's me, always stretching.  

We may not have all agreed on the court, but I enjoyed getting to know my teammates and I spent off-court time with a few.  Venus Williams (Louisiana Tech University) was a college nemesis at the 1988 and 1990 Final Fours.  We spent a fun afternoon shopping at a tall women’s clothing store.  Stanford University put a dagger in my heart in the 1990 Final Four and I managed to make friends with my Cardinal teammates Christy Hedgepeth, Kate Paye, Kate Starbird and Val Whiting.  Purdue University All-American Joy Holmes joined the team in its second year and brought her son Gary Jr. with her (then he was around three years old; he now plays for the Denver Nuggets).  Joy is one of the nicest people I have ever met (and fiercest competitors) and it was not lost on me that she went through all the stuff we did and then went home to be a mom. 

I don’t like to play favorites, but Angela Aycock (University of Kansas) was especially fun to be around and we had a lot of laughs together.  I went to my first gay-friendly bar with her (on New Year’s Eve no less) and quickly realized it was pointless for us to be there since all the good-looking men were there with other good-looking men. 

My personal experiences in Seattle were the polar opposite to my playing experiences.  No ups and downs, just calm.  I had fun going out and about, but still spent a good bit of time on my own.  When I wasn’t hanging at the Re-bar (I think Angela and I went there twice), I did some shopping (Nordstrom Rack!) and sightseeing (Roslyn, Washington and Victoria B.C.’s Butchart Gardens)  I loved walking along Alki Beach.  Yes, Seattle lived up to the legendary dreary, overcast days.  But when the sun came out, the gloriousness outweighed the suffering.  I remember driving down the highway on a sunny day thinking, “I could live here.” 

I played for two seasons (1996-97 and 1997-98) and loved it.  To this day, it was the best job I ever had.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get picked up for the third season, and in the middle of that season, the league went bankrupt.  Make way for the WNBA.  After that last stint, I was really done.  I was 29 and didn’t feel like trying out for a new league in a new city.  Peace, I’m out. 

Over the past 20 years I’ve thought about going back to Seattle.  But it’s far.  And expensive.  And I seemed to run out of vacation days after planning my other trips.  After dreaming up my World Tour, the idea was more on my radar.  And things started to slowly fall into place. 

About a year ago I got back in touch with our strength coach, Peter Shmock, after hearing about his Life Athlete movement (see Post No. 431).  Last summer I had a blast from the past, hearing from my weight-gaining and workout partner Bryan (see Post No. 415).  He had recently begun working out with Peter and eventually my name came up and, voila – he decided to contact me.  And thanks to Facebook, I realized that several players and front office staff still lived in the area. 

Armed with a fresh desire to go and combined with free hotel nights that dropped into my lap, fairly cheap (and direct) airfare, plus an increase in my PTO days, I decided to go for it. 

Stay tuned for Part 2! 

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